FURNACE CREEK FAULT ZONE
This study evaluates the Furnace Creek fault zone from the north end of the zone near Chiatovich Creek in Fish Lake Valley (pl. 1A) to the mouth of Furnace Creek Wash, north of Texas Spring, in Death Valley (pl. 2). Geologic and geomorphic features express youthful faulting along much of this part of the fault zone, which is about 170 km long. The north end of the fault zone curves toward the northeast, where youthful scarps apparently die out. Right-lateral strike slip along the Furnace Creek fault zone is accommodated by normal movement along the northeast-trending faults. Other northeast-trending fault zones west of the Silver Peak Range have youthful scarps (Reheis, 1988; M.C. Reheis, U.S. Geological Survey, written commun., 1988), suggesting that the slip on the Furnace Creek fault is transferred to other northeast-trending faults in Fish Lake Valley. Southeastward, faults assigned to the Furnace Creek fault zone extend up Furnace Creek Wash (pl. 3) into the Amargosa Desert, where they appear to terminate (Wright and Troxel, 1967). A field reconnaissance of the fault zone in Furnace Creek Wash revealed little evidence of youthful faulting, although faults cutting Quaternary deposits were mapped by McAllister (1970); faults in Furnace Creek Wash are not shown on plate 3. An aerial reconnaissance of the Keane Wonder fault, which coincides with the southwestern base of the Funeral Mountains, revealed no geomorphic expression of youthful faulting, and that fault was not studied further.
Chiatovich Creek Section
The concave-eastward Chiatovich Creek section (CK; this symbol and those in subsequent discussions refer to fault sections shown on fig. 2 and on pls. 14) is the northernmost recently active part of the Furnace Creek fault zone. This section is further subdivided into a northern part, 7.6 km in length having a mean trend of N. 34° E., and a southern part, 11.5 km long with a mean trend of N. 30° W. The northern part curves away from the White Mountains range front near the mouth of Indian Creek and is defined by a series of discontinuous scarps in the Quaternary alluvial-fan deposits of Fish Lake Valley. The southern part coincides with the eastern front of the White Mountains from Indian to Busher Creeks. A series of scarps and benches having a more northerly trend than the range-front fault splits away from the main fault trace north of Busher Creek. This splay of the Furnace Creek fault zone ends to the south in a prominent set of northward-trending scarps in alluvial-fan deposits east of the main fault trace between Marble and Indian Creeks. Earlier mapping that covers the Chiatovich Creek section was published by Albers and Stewart (1965), Krauskopf (1971), and Robinson and Crowder (1973).
Late Quaternary and Holocene fault-related features in the Chiatovich Creek section include both eastward- and westward-facing fault scarps, grabens, offset streams, and shutterridges. Offset shutterridges and drainages indicate a predominant component of right-lateral strike slip along north- or northwest-trending parts of this section of the fault zone.
Q1B surfaces are faulted in two places and probably by three separate events between Indian and Marble Creeks (M.C. Reheis, U.S. Geological Survey, written commun., 1989). Just south of Indian Creek, a 24-m-high east-facing scarp in deposits underlying an inferred mid-Pleistocene (Q2) surface contains a slight but distinct bench. Along trend with the bench to the north is a small scarp with 3.3 m of relief on an inferred older Holocene (Q1C) surface near the mouth of Indian Creek. The beveled profile of the higher scarp and the superposition of two scarps are interpreted as evidence of recurrent faulting.
The sinuous scarp that cuts the alluvial-fan deposits at the mouth of Leidy Creek shows greater relief where it cuts an inferred Pleistocene (Q2) surface than it does where it cuts younger surfaces. Scarps cutting the inferred Pleistocene surface range in height from several meters to as many as several tens of meters in the most dissected deposits. In a surface believed to be early Holocene (Q1C) evidence of faulting varies from faint lineaments to scarps as much as several meters high. No fault-related features were recognized in alluvial deposits of either Q1A or Q1B age near Leidy Creek.
The Dyer section (DS, pl. 1A), 10.4 km in length with a mean trend of N. 22° W., coincides with the White Mountains range front between Busher and Toler Creeks. Scarps in poorly consolidated alluvial deposits at the mouth of Perry Aiken Creek near the middle of the Dyer section have the greatest relief of any scarps along the Furnace Creek fault zone (fig. 5). The largest scarps face eastward, sloping uniformly at about 30° and having as much as 64 m of relief. The zone of surface rupture in the Dyer section ranges in width from that of a single scarp to nearly 1 km. Earlier mapping of the Dyer section was published by Bryson (1937), Strand (1967), Krauskopf (1971), and Albers and Stewart (1965).
The faulted fan deposits near Perry Aiken Creek (fig. 5) are of inferred Pleistocene age (Q2). No fault-related features are recognized with certainty in units younger than Q2 in this area. Profiles across the scarps near Perry Aiken Creek do not show evidence of beveled crests. Possible evidence of younger faulting, expressed by discontinuous, subdued scarps(?) and linear, tonal contrasts on inferred younger Holocene surfaces (Q1B), occurs at two localities within the Dyer section (pl. 1A). A broad break in slope on an inferred Q1B surface at the mouth of McAfee Creek may be a subtle fault scarp. Possible subdued scarps in undissected Q1B(?)-age deposits also were recognized in several ravines about 0.6 km south of Busher Creek.
The Oasis section (OS, pl. 1A), which has a fault length of 22.8 km and a mean trend of N. 42° W., contains three distinct zones of fault-related features. The western zone is a series of discontinuous scarps that follow the White Mountains range front. A central zone of scarps appears to be the modern trace of the Furnace Creek fault zone. The central and western zones merge and follow the range front near the north end of the Oasis section, but in the southern part of the Oasis section, the central zone is as much as 1.6 km east of the range front. The eastern zone consists of discontinuous vegetation lineaments in the southern part of the Oasis section and extends southward into the Horse Thief Canyon section. A prominent set of vegetation lineaments also occurs south of the Lookout Mine on the east side of Fish Lake Valley adjacent to the Oasis section. Previous maps covering the Oasis section were published by Strand (1967), Ross (1967), McKee and Nelson (1967), Reynolds (1969), Krauskopf (1971), and Stewart and others (1974).
Features indicative of recent faulting along the Oasis section include scarps with sinuous traces, en echelon scarps, conjugate scarps, vegetation lineaments, stream offsets, linear ridges, sags, ponded alluvium, and trenches. Between Toler and Wildhorse Creeks, the fault trace follows the curvilinear range front and is defined by a series of prominent en echelon fault scarps; no continuous surface rupture is recognized along this reach of the fault zone. The scarps appear only to cut the Pleistocene (Q2-age) deposits. Younger alluvial deposits pond locally along the bases of westward-facing scarps.
South of Wildhorse Creek, the main (central) zone of scarps trends away from the range front. A prominent set of fault scarps cuts an inferred Pleistocene (Q2) surface south of the mouth of Furnace Creek, defining sags and linear ridges. Nearly 20 m of relief was measured on an eastward-facing scarp in Q2 deposits in this area, whereas a southwest-facing scarp in inferred older Holocene (Q1C) deposits has only about 1 m of relief. Younger surfaces (Q1B and Q1A) do not appear to have been faulted.
Two prominent scarps that bound a sag along the main (central) fault trace just south of Furnace Creek offset three abandoned drainages. The southernmost drainage is offset about 62 m, the middle drainage is offset 69 m, and the northern drainage is offset successively across the two scarps in steps of 54 and 66 m for a total of 120 m of right-lateral displacement. Right-lateral strike slip apparently exceeds northeast-side-down normal displacement in this area.
The vegetation lineament that ends on the north about 3.5 km northwest of Oasis marks the northern end of a 13.7-km-long zone of young features, possibly as young as Q1A in age, that extends into the Horse Thief Canyon section to the south. This zone may represent the youngest faulting along the Furnace Creek fault zone. Several days after a severe summer storm in 1969 a 10.8-m-long fissure zone formed in modern playa deposits near the mouth of Furnace Creek. However, it was not possible to demonstrate if the fissure was tectonic in origin.
Geomorphic relationships several kilometers west of Oasis are shown on figure 6. The western scarps cut Q2 surfaces, slope approximately 22°, and have about 1.5 m of vertical separation. The eastern scarps truncate Q2 surfaces, are several tens of meters high, and are as steep as 21°. Both the eastern and western scarps within the area of figure 6 appear older than Q1B surfaces.
Horse Thief Canyon Section
The Horse Thief Canyon section (HT, pls. 1A, 1B), with a fault length of 14.5 km and a mean trend of N. 40° W., extends from near the mouth of Cottonwood Creek to Willow Wash at the south end of Fish Lake Valley (pls. 1A, 1B). Previous mapping of the Horse Thief Canyon section was published by Ross (1967), Strand (1967), and McKee and Nelson (1967). Other studies of the Horse Thief Canyon section were published by McKee (1968) and Reynolds (1969).
Distinct vegetation lineaments continuous with the eastern zone of lineaments and small scarps in the southern part of the Oasis section are the principal indicators of youthful faulting along the northernmost 8 km of the Horse Thief Canyon section. These lineaments appear as vegetation lineaments in young alluvial deposits and may be of nearly historic (Q1A) age. Some of the vegetation lineaments may be cultural in origin, but those of northwest trend that coincide with boundaries of vegetation contrast are judged to be tectonic.
The most prominent fault-related feature in the southern part of the Horse Thief Canyon section is a discontinuous, southwest-facing linear scarp cutting an inferred Pleistocene (Q2) surface. The scarp is eroded extensively, and younger deposits in the cross-cutting drainage channels do not appear to be faulted. A few small, isolated, northeast-facing scarps occur along the range front in the southern part of the Horse Thief Canyon section, and several other small scarps cut alluvial deposits in the adjacent valley. Three drainages with right-lateral offset near the south end of the section (not shown on pl. 1B) show no evidence of a dip-slip component.
Cucomungo Canyon Section
The Cucomungo Canyon section (CC, pl. 1B), 16.2 km in length with a mean trend of N. 55° W., is the only part of the Furnace Creek fault zone located almost entirely in bedrock within mountainous terrain. In Willow Wash, aligned valleys follow the same northwest trend as scarps in the Horse Thief Canyon section. The fault zone turns abruptly to a west-northwest trend in lower Cucomungo Canyon, then gently curves back to a northwest trend as it is traced southeast up the southwest side of Cucomungo Canyon and down the southwest side of Last Chance Canyon into Death Valley. Previous maps of the Cucomungo Canyon section were published by Strand (1967), Ross (1967), McKee and Nelson (1967), and McKee (1985). McKee (1968) estimated the long-term average rate of right-lateral movement for the Furnace Creek fault zone to be on the order of 0.25 mm (millimeter) per year on the basis of his correlation and interpretation of offset drainages and bedrock features across the Cucomungo Canyon section. This is an order of magnitude slower than the slip rate estimated by Bryant (1988) for late Quaternary faulting in the Redwall fan section, and about 13-25 percent of the lateral slip rate of 1.0 to 1.8 mm/yr, inferred in Fish Lake Valley by Sawyer (1988).
The Furnace Creek fault zone is exposed in bedrock near the head of Last Chance Canyon, where it strikes N. 60° W., and individual fault surfaces range in dip from 60° SW to vertical. As it is traced southward from Fish Lake Valley through the Cucomungo Canyon section into Death Valley, the Furnace Creek fault zone bends eastward and steps eastward. In concert with right-lateral strike slip along the fault system as a whole, this bend produces significant compression across the more westerly trending parts of the Cucomungo Canyon-section; components of reverse dip slip have, in fact, been recognized along west-northwest-trending faults cutting bedrock within the Cucomungo Canyon section (M.C. Reheis, U.S. Geological Survey, written commun., 1989).
Geomorphic features indicative of youthful faulting are abundant in the Cucomungo Canyon section and include small scarps, shutterridges, trenches, notches, benches, diverted drainages, linear valleys, and various lineaments of unknown origin. Faults cut surfaces as young as Q1B in age. One kilometer west of Willow Spring, three drainages developed on Q1B surfaces show right-lateral offset of 4.6 to 6.4 m.
Sand Spring Section
The Sand Spring section (SS, pl. 1B), 24.7 km in length with a mean trend of N. 36° W., extends from the mouth of Last Chance Canyon to about 1 km north of the northern boundary of Death Valley National Monument, along the base of the Grapevine Mountains. Northwest of Little Sand Spring the fault zone is marked by a series of en echelon, elongate ridges; these ridges trend approximately 15° more west than the trend of the fault zone. The fault is further marked by aligned valleys and notches. South of Little Sand Spring, subdued, isolated scarps reflect recent faulting over a broad zone. Discontinuous scarps are mapped as far as 7 km northeast of the main fault near Oriental Wash. Previous maps of the Sand Spring section were published by Strand (1967), Reynolds (1969), McKee (1985), and Moring (1986).
Small scarps on the Oriental Wash fan cut inferred Pleistocene deposits but are extensively eroded and cut by channels. All of these scarps slope less than 15° Most faulting in the Sand Spring section appears to be older than that along adjacent sections of the fault zone, although Holocene deposits are offset near the southern end of the Sand Spring section (M.C. Reheis, U.S. Geological Survey, written commun., 1989).
Grapevine Canyon Section
The Grapevine Canyon section (GO, pl. 1C). 25.8 km in length with a mean trend of N. 38° W., comprises two distinct zones of fault-related features extending from near the northern boundary of Death Valley National Monument to Bighorn Gorge in the Cottonwood Mountains. Prominent scarps mark the main trace of the fault along the range front of the Grapevine Mountains. Strands of the main fault zone are exposed in bedrock along parts of the Grapevine Mountains. A second zone of fault-related features, starting about 1 km southwest of the main fault trace in the northern part of the Grapevine Canyon section, extends from 2 km south of the northern section boundary at least to the road to Ubehebe Crater. In the southern 2 km of the Grapevine Canyon section, a cluster of scarps on the west side of Death Valley continues southward into the Redwall fan and Titus fan sections. Fault scarps are sparse in this southwestern strand of the fault zone; a gap in the surface expression of the fault extends from the area of Ubehebe Crater to Bighorn Gorge, a fault length of about 15 km. Previous maps of the Grapevine Canyon section area were published by Strand (1967), Reynolds (1969), Streitz and Stinson (1977), and Moring (1986).
The Grapevine Canyon section has abundant, well-developed features indicative of youthful faulting, including linear ridges and valleys, diverted and displaced channels, ponded alluvium, trenches, benches, notches, shutterridges, sags, springs, vegetation lineaments, en echelon scarps and benches, and beheaded channels. Immediately south of the site of the old Grapevine Ranger Station, displaced drainages indicate right-lateral slip of 12 to 21 m, with no obvious dip-slip component; a large shutterridge is also here.
In the northern part of the Grapevine Canyon section, prominent scarps cut Pleistocene (Q2) deposits, and smaller scarps cut deposits inferred to be as young as early Holocene (Q1C) Youthful (Holocene?) scarps about 2 km south of Ubehebe Crater are mantled by unfaulted ash deposits. Scarps in Q2 surfaces typically have separations of about 15 m, whereas the separation on corresponding scarps in inferred Q1C units generally is less than 1.5 m. Surfaces younger than Q1C do not appear to be faulted. Disruption of deposits assigned a Q1C age was identified for about 23.8 km along this section of the Furnace Creek fault zone.
Redwall Fan Section
The Redwall fan section (RE, pl. 1C), 13 km long with a mean trend of N. 33° W., encompasses a single well-developed scarp, separated into four colinear parts by erosion and (or) buried by younger alluvial deposits. Previous maps covering the Redwall fan section were published by Reynolds (1969) and Streitz and Stinson (1977).
The northernmost part of the Redwall fan section consists of a 1.9-km-long, northeast-facing scarp cutting a Q2 surface with relief as great as 23 m and a slope as steep as 33°. En echelon furrows (Reidel shears) trend north-northwest across the crest of the scarp. The next set of scarps to the south displaces distributary channels in an inferred Q1C surface. The right-slip component ranges from 0.2 to 2.7 m, and relief on the scarps is 0.2 to 2 m. Scarps in a Q2 surface are 2.4 to 5 m high, suggesting recurrent faulting. The next series of scarps toward the south is mostly in dissected alluvium of suspected Q2 age; a distinct furrow and bench appear to represent the most recent surface rupture in this area. Farther south, the fault zone diverges from the range front of the Grapevine Mountains. The southern end of the Redwall fan section is marked by several northeast-facing scarps. These are separated from the next set of scarps to the north by more than 3 km. Q1C surfaces are the youngest geomorphic units believed to be faulted in the Redwall fan section.
Within the Redwall fan section, an approximate late Quaternary right-lateral slip rate of 2.3 mm/yr (millimeters per year) for the Furnace Creek fault zone was calculated by Bryant (1988). The calculation assumed that an alluvial fan surface, older than Q1C and whose edge is offset right laterally by 46 m, is about 20 ka.
Titus Fan Section
The Titus fan section (TE, pl. 1C), along the foot of the alluvial fan issuing from Titus Canyon, is 4.9 km long and has a mean trend of N. 31° W. This section is characterized by multiple northeast-facing scarplets. Previous maps of the Titus fan section were published by Reynolds (1969) and Streitz and Stinson (1977).
Surfaces assigned to unit Q1C clearly are faulted along the Titus fan section, and Q1B surfaces are disrupted. Scarps in inferred Q1B surfaces are small, typically less than 0.5 m high, and locally appear as linear traces of surface disruption (mole tracks) rather than as distinct surface scarps. Immediately south of the Titus Canyon road, several faults, with as much as about 0.5 m down-to-the-east dip separation, are exposed in a barrow pit. Faults in this section are not known to disrupt modern (Q1A-age) alluvial deposits. Scarps cutting Q1B surfaces extend almost continuously for about 13 km southwest of the Titus Canyon section (to the middle of the Death Valley Buttes section).
Mesquite Flat Section
The Mesquite Flat section (MF, pl. 1C), 8.1 km long with a mean trend of N. 36° W., extends from the southern part of the Titus Canyon fan to Triangle Spring. Previous maps covering the Mesquite Flat section were published by Hunt and Mabey (1966), Reynolds (1969), and Streitz and Stinson (1977).
Like the Titus fan section to the north, the Mesquite Flat section is not along a mountain front but is on an alluvial plain several kilometers west of the front. The fault zone is expressed mainly as vegetation lineaments and eroded scarplets. Northeast-facing scarplets as high as 1.8 m cut inferred Q1B-age alluvial deposits in the southern part of the Titus Canyon fan. The local drainage has modified virtually all of these scarps. In Mesquite Flat, the fault zone is defined by sharp vegetation contrasts, aligned dunes, and tonal lineaments in playa deposits, but it is not known whether the playa deposits are actually faulted. The dunes are colinear with many of the vegetation lineaments and may have been localized by the stabilizing action of plants growing along the fault trace.
Death Valley Buttes Section
The Death Valley Buttes section (DB, pls. 1C, 2), 9.1 km long with a mean trend of N. 46° W., extends from Triangle Spring to 2.0 km northwest of Mud Canyon. Previous maps covering the Death Valley Buttes section were published by Hunt and Mabey (1966), Reynolds (1969), and Streitz and Stinson (1977).
The northernmost 5.0 km of the Death Valley Buttes section has a nearly continuous, southwest-facing scarp cut along the base of a slope developed on Tertiary strata. The fault scarp generally is less than 1 m high. In addition, a series of north- to northwest-trending en echelon graben structures are northeast of the main fault, and cut geomorphic surfaces Q2 and Q1B Tertiary strata are strongly folded along this part of the fault zone. Instead of continuous scarp in the southern part of the Death Valley Buttes section, the fault zone has a series of westward-facing scarplets that appear to form a north-trending set of en echelon tension gashes.
The youngest faulting appears to involve unit Q1B along the northern 5 km of the Death Valley Buttes section. Farther south, unit Q1C is the youngest unit thought to be faulted.
Beatty Junction Section
The Beatty Junction section (BJ, pl. 2), 19.5 km long with a mean trend of N. 50° W. stretches from the Stovepipe Wells area to the sharp southward bend in the trace of the active fault system north of Salt Springs. It is the southernmost section of known active faulting along the Furnace Creek fault; no evidence of late Pleistocene or Holocene faulting was discovered along the southeastward projection of the Furnace Creek fault in Furnace Creek Wash. Previous maps showing the Beatty Junction section were published by Noble and Wright (1954) and Hunt and Mabey (1966).
The northern part of the Beatty Junction section is marked by both northeast- and southwest-facing scarps. In this area, the youngest faulted deposits are assigned to unit Q1B Locally, there is progressively greater offset of older (Q1C? and Q2) units that suggest recurrent Quaternary displacements.
Farther south toward Beatty Junction, scarps are discontinuous, generally facing southwestward with less than 1.0 m of relief. More than 50 percent of the fault trace in this area is covered by undisturbed alluvial deposits. Only one low (less than 1 m), discontinuous scarp was recognized from Beatty Junction to the southeast end of the Beatty Junction section; vegetation lineaments are the principal indicator of young faulting in this part of the fault zone.
Last Updated: 24-Jul-2009